The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tata Tea divestment plan hits union wall

Dibrugarh, March 12: Tata Tea Limited’s plan to divest its gardens in Assam and West Bengal under the North Indian Plantation Operations (NIPO) and form a new corporate entity hit a stumbling block today with a faction of the labourers deciding to oppose the move.

Nearly 1,000 labourers from 20 Tata Tea estates in the state today laid siege to the head office of the Asom Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) in the district headquarters, demanding intervention of the trade union into what the labourers termed as “a very complex issue”.

Recently, the labourers had also formed a joint forum, All Assam Tata Tea Labour Co-ordination Committee, comprising labourers’ representatives from all Tata Tea gardens in the state, to oppose the move.

Irate labourers today grilled the trade union’s general secretary Madhusudhan Khandait, forcing him to seek police protection.

“We had been maintaining that we need to understand the technicalities of the proposal clearly before entering into any sort of arrangement. But nobody paid attention to our demand. So we decided to oppose the move,” said Ramesh Majhi, general secretary of the co-ordination committee.

What irked the labourers most was the fact that the trade union top brass, including ACMS president Paban Singh Ghatowar, maintained silence over the issue.

“Ghatowar tried to avoid us whenever we urged him to explain the details of the proposal. Besides, the management of the gardens was also putting pressure on us to accept the proposal,” said co-ordination committee president Isub Das.

Some of the labourers also said the managers of their respective tea gardens threatened to throw them out of their jobs and take legal action against them if they refused to accept the new proposal within this month.

The new company will come into existence from April 1.

According to the new proposal, Tata Tea Limited will have a share of up to 20 per cent, while International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL & FS) will have 20 per cent shares each. Workers and staff will get 15 to 20 per cent of the shares while the rest of the shares will be divided among other investors, which include Tata Group Companies and Globally Managed Services.

Workers and staff members will be given 100 per cent interest free loans to be repaid within a span of seven years. Instalments of the loan amount will be deducted every month from their wages/salaries.

Khandait said the issue of whether to accept the proposal or not rests entirely upon the labourers. “However, since the labourers have reacted so strongly against the move, we will take up the issue with the company once again,” he added.

The Asom Chah Karmachari Sangha and the ACMS had earlier sought some clarifications in writing from the company, but the company is yet to respond to it.

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